BEND, Ore. - (Update: Adding Nelson's email to employees; Crook County sheriff's comments)
Deschutes County Sheriff Shane Nelson told NewsChannel 21 on Monday he has put the brakes on a planned sale to deputies of nearly 50 old rifles, saying he didn’t want the action to be misinterpreted.
NewsChannel 21 asked to speak with Nelson after receiving a copy of an email sent last Tuesday to deputies in the department, in which Training Unit Sgt. Ernie Brown said “we will soon be making our old patrol rifles available for purchase to our sworn employees.”
A total of 47 rifles were to be made available for purchase, only one per employee and “based on seniority,” Brown’s email said. The message said they would be sold for $350, plus a $35 background check, with checks payable to Keith's Sporting Goods.
Brown said deputies interested in buying a rifle needed to reply to his email by this Wednesday.
The person who provided the email to NewsChannel 21 said he believed the sales to deputies of rifles bought with tax dollars, rather than offered to the public, appeared "highly unethical."
Nelson said Monday that he’d already had second thoughts about the gun sales after the email went out, and before NewsChannel 21 contacted him about it.
"We vetted this through legal counsel, and we were going to conduct business through a reputable firearms dealer,” Nelson said. “But at the end of the day, I own all the decisions out of the office. That's not a decision I want to make, and that's why I put a stop to the sales."
“Our office has done this before, and other agencies have done this before as well,” Nelson said. “When I saw the email offer, it just did not sit well with me. It just did not sound right. So I wanted to have a visit with the captain about it.”
When the captain involved returned from vacation on Monday, they met to discuss the matter, Nelson said, and “we ultimately decided to halt the sale of these firearms.”
“I don’t think the optics of it look very good,” he said. “I made a mistake in approving that in the first place. Fortunately, I had the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, and I had the ability to put a stop to that sale.”
Nelson said some of the guns date back to the late ‘70s and early ‘90s. “Our office wanted to upgrade to a newer weapons system technology.”
“Oftentimes we will, through some kind of purchase program of new firearms, sell back outdated firearms or firearms that are no longer up to date, in the interests of public safety,” the sheriff said.
Now, instead of a sale to deputies, he said, the rifles may be provided to other agencies, for use in training or their operations.
“They’re still functioning firearms. They still have some value to the taxpayer,” Nelson said.
Nelson also sent a follow-up email to all sheriff’s office personnel on Monday, which read:
“Last Tuesday, an email was sent out after I had approved the sale of out-of-service rifles to a reputable gun dealer and in turn allowed them to sell them to our deputy sheriffs.
“When I read the email from training, it did not sit well with me. I felt allowing deputies to purchase these firearms would not be in alignment with our excellent relationship we have worked so hard to have with our community.
“I am reversing my earlier decision and I will not be allowing the purchase of these rifles by our deputy sheriffs.
“Thank you for working hard for this office and the citizens we serve. I appreciate you all,” read the email, signed “A1.”
Former Marion County Sheriff Jason Myers, who works in government relations and training for the Oregon State Sheriffs Association, said the organization doesn’t track such policies for disposal of older firearms and that it’s up to each sheriff to make those decisions, under applicable state laws.
But Jefferson County Sheriff Jim Adkins told NewsChannel 21, “It is not our general practice to sell older weapons to deputies.”
“We will trade our older weapons to a gun dealer to receive their next/newer generation,” Adkins said. “They can do what they want with the older weapons and jump through all the legal hoops.”
Crook County Sheriff John Gautney said much the same.
“Since I have been sheriff, we sell our old rifles to a federal firearms dealer. The proceeds go toward replacing our duty firearms and ammunition,” Gautney said. “Our deputies are not allowed to purchase these firearms from the sheriff’s office.”